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Gudbranson comes of age in first NHL season

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

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Gudbranson comes of age in first NHL season
Erik Gudbranson blossomed in his first season with the Panthers, leading the team in hits and matching up with the Devils' top line.

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Is there any doubt the future of the Florida Panthers in the Sunshine State is looking rather bright these days?

In a matter of six months, rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was able to turn a lot of heads with his aggressive, intimidating approach. There's something about the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Gudbranson, the No. 3 pick by Florida in 2010, that reminds one of a young Ed Jovanovski.

"He's got high passion and energy," Jovanovski told "Sometimes, I think coaches would like to see him play more controlled, maybe slow down a bit. But it's tough to ask a young player to do that because they feed off of that stuff."


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Jovanovski would know.

At a rookie in 1995-96, "JovoCop" was establishing himself as a menacing defenseman during that historic playoff run by the Panthers. It was Jovanovski who drove Philadelphia Flyers forward Eric Lindros batty in their 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinal round matchup won by the Panthers in six games.

Gudbranson offered a similar glimpse of what's in store for opposing forwards despite the team's seven-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils.

"The best way for me to develop is to just dive right into the pool, so getting out there against guys like [Zach] Parise and [Ilya Kovalchuk] and [Travis] Zajac was great," Gudbranson told "They're premier players in the League and that was a pretty scary line to contain.

"But trying to shut them down and contain them was a lot of fun. It's a job that I think everyone in this room wanted. They got their chances, but we played hard against them."

Gudbranson, who topped the Panthers with 154 hits in the regular season, ranked third on team in the playoffs with 22 body checks. He averaged 17:06 of ice time and was given the responsibility, on most occasions, to contain New Jersey's top trio of Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk.

During Florida's 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Devils in Game 7 on Thursday, Gudbranson logged 21:04 of ice time.

"There were times in the beginning of the year that Erik Gudbranson was a healthy scratch but, you know what, what's fun is watching these young players develop, and I think when you're a 19-year-old kid developing at this level it happens a lot quicker," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's almost like your own children. You watch them grow up so quick, and I think that's what you saw in his emergence as a top line player, especially in this series. I think he's been a presence everywhere. He's been enjoyable to watch grow into a quality young man here in the last six months."

Jovanovski, who has partnered with Gudbranson for much of the season, took it one step further.

"The rookie times are over, he's a veteran now and he's experienced in the playoffs," Jovanovski said. "He played like one, and he made huge strides over the last few months of the year and it carried over into the playoffs."

Gudbranson, who has been criticized at times for being overly aggressive, even talks a good game just seven months into his inaugural NHL season.

"It's all about containment," he said. "Against Kovalchuk, Parise or Zajac, I tried to let them make the first move. The best players in the League are opportunists, so when they get a chance, nine times out of 10 they'll bury it. So it's all about limiting those chances and playing hard."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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